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Tension On The Korean Peninsula – South Korean Policy Towards North Korea

4039 words - 16 pages

North Korea, formally known as the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a relic of the Cold War and the world’s last remaining totalitarian Stalinist dictatorship. Arguably the most secretive state in the world, North Korea poses a unique set of challenges to the world, especially to its democratic and capitalist neighbor, South Korea, formally known as the Republic of Korea (ROK). As one of the last remnants of the Cold War era, North Korea remains an anomaly of the international system due to its unpredictable nature and disregard for international norms. With the recent bombardment of the South Korean Island of Yeongpyong and the sinking of the warship Cheonan, tensions between the two Koreas are at the lowest point since the end of the Korean War. The question remains regarding the direction South Korea must take if it hopes to achieve lasting peace on the peninsula and whether the goal of re-unification can be attained in our lifetime. Past South Korean engagement policies such as the Nordpolitik and the ‘Sunshine Policy’ have shown to elicit some positive effects on improving relations. However, they failed to reduce the military tension that exists on the peninsula as the North continued to pursue a nuclear weapons program during their implementation. The current administration has taken a more hard-lined approach but this too has proven to only further increase tensions as evidenced by the recent provocations. For South Korea to successfully formulate a set of policies that would elicit a positive response from North Korea, South Korea must carefully evaluate its past policy successes while also attempting to understand the underlying reasoning behind North Korean behavior.
As scholar Samuel S. Kim points out, what makes the Korean situation so unique today is its peoples past history of unity and homogeneity. For almost two millennia the Korean peninsula has been united ethnically and linguistically and from 668 AD until 1945, it lived under the same rule with the same “territory, language, race, customs and history” (Kim, 3). This illustrates the paradox of the Korean conflict and the subsequent reasoning behind the continued collective belief in reunification of the peninsula.
The current situation in the peninsula can be traced back to the end of WWII in 1945, with the liberation of the Korean peninsula following thirty-five years of forced Japanese occupation. Following the Japanese surrender, the Soviet Union and the United States held an emergency meeting to establish post-war spheres of influence and the disarming of the Japanese. In what is viewed as a rather hasty decision it was decided that the Korean peninsula should be divided into separate American and Soviet occupation zones along the 38th parallel--roughly cutting the peninsula in half. The only main consideration made by the Americans regarding this decision was that this would place the old imperial capital of Seoul in the America occupation zone...

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